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December 7, 2022
This week, we’re launching a brand-new series on how founders have forged their own paths to product-market fit. Read on for more on what to expect and for our very first interview — with Airtable's co-founder.

Introducing Paths to Product-Market Fit: A New Series Full of Advice for Founders

If you’re a long-time reader, then you’ll know that we typically publish profiles on founders and startup leaders, covering a wide range of topics. One week we could be covering how to become a better manager, and the next you’ll find us wading into the more specific weeds of spinning up a design ops function, or delegating more tasks to your EA.

But today we’re trying something a bit different. Over the next several months, we’ll be teaming up with First Round partner Todd Jackson on a new series, with the aim to share more stories on one singular topic: how to find product-market fit.

It's always been a tricky target. But the quest for product-market fit has taken on more urgency lately, as follow-on funding becomes more difficult to secure and the pressure to hit stellar metrics has set in.

We’ve seen this hunger for more stories — and more specifics — over the years here on The Review, whether it was the response to our more recent article on Figma’s unique community-first approach, the detailed history of how Looker first got off the ground, or the Superhuman product-market engine we published in 2018 (which quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views and went on to become a staple for founders).

That’s why we wanted to invest even more effort here, carving out a corner that's solely dedicated to PMF in our first-ever regular series.

Every other week, we’ll share one of Jackson’s interviews with dozens of founders who went on fascinating journeys to get to product-market fit. 

Jackson makes for an incredible guide here, drawing on his experiences taking Gmail from beta to more than 200 million users as a PM, starting his own company, Cover, and now spending his days helping the founders he's backed tackle this very challenge. (The topic has also been something of a hobbyhorse of his lately — check out his excellent guest post on validating startup ideas in Lenny’s Newsletter, or the episodes he’s hosted on our podcast, In Depth.)

The stories we’ll tell in this series won’t all have an identical structure — mostly because no two company building paths are alike. Some will aim to inspire as you set out on your own journey as a founder; others will get into the nitty-gritty mechanics of bringing a company idea to life.  

They’ll touch on all the various flavors of company building and share hard-won insights from both the well-known and the under-the-radar — in hopes that excavating other founders’ stories for tactical takeaways will help make your own path just a little bit smoother.

First up in our series: Airtable's journey to product-market fit, as told to Jackson by co-founder Andrew Ofstad.

Timeline graphic laying out Airtable's milestones on the path to product market fit

In addition to studying the timeline visual above (see full-sized version here), you can read Airtable's story in full (or listen here if you prefer). Here’s a preview of what Ofstad shared:

  • Why Airtable had a “long gestation period” — instead of the lean startup, “fail fast” approach that was so popular at that time.
  • How the team thought about their alpha, beta, and launch timelines.
  • What early product traction looked like, and the first “aha” customer moment.
  • The challenges of creating a horizontal product that can do many things — from identifying initial use cases, to figuring out messaging.

We're really curious to hear what you think about this new series and first post, so feel free to reply to this email with any thoughts (or fill out the handy survey at the bottom of this email.)

Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing!

-The Review Editors

Take me to The Review

Apply to join the next cohort of First Round's customer discovery program:

Through Discovery Assist, we help founders find design partners by building out a pipeline and delivering curated conversations. In our first few cohorts, we teamed up with +70 founders and delivered hundreds of warm intros to leaders at Plaid, Shopify, Twilio and more.

The next Discovery Assist cohort begins on 2/1 with a 4-week sprint. We're opening up a limited number of spots for founders in the early innings of honing their B2B startup idea. (The program is free and open to all founders — even if you haven't raised from First Round.)
Apply here

Recommended resources:

- This post on why it's time to forget what you think you know about remote development.

- Thoughts on the company/team/self framework.

- Levels founder Sam Corcos's advice on how to activate your investor network. (Revisit his Review article on how he tracked his time as CEO.)

- This read on how to move fast and not break things as a remote company.

- This thread on how to get creative with your marketing under funding constraints.

Trending this week — Review Reads:

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Investing in Internal Documentation: A Brick-by-Brick Guide for Startups
David Nunez (early hire at Stripe & Uber) shares his playbook for establishing internal documentation habits, with tested tactics for creating a culture of documentation, setting the quality bar and staying organized.
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Annual Planning in Uncertain Times: 6 Tactics for Rethinking Your Company’s End-of-Year Exercise
We’ve combed the Review archives for a timely roundup of the most unique advice for end-of-year strategic planning from leaders like Lenny Rachitsky, Nels Gilbreth, Jeff Lawson, Annie Duke, Ravi Mehta and more. 
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Advice for the Pre-Product/Market Fit Days — This Founder’s Playbook for Pivoting with Purpose
Tara Viswanathan shares her biggest lessons from the early years of building Rupa Health — including how to pivot your way into the right product and build the winning team.
Photo of Nikhyl Singhal
How to Craft Your Product Team at Every Stage, From Pre-Product/Market Fit to Hypergrowth
Former Credit Karma CPO Nikhyl Singhal shares the phases a product org goes through as a startup matures, from what to look for in your first product hire, to how to tell when you have product-market fit.

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